I am currently reading Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963, which is Sylvia Plath’s letters to her family. The book was edited by and included commentary from Aurelia Schober Plath (Sylvia’s mother). So far I think the book is wonderful. Sylvia’s childhood relationship with her mother is something I hope to mimic when I have a child. I am a fairly skeptical person and would think that her mother exaggerated about their connection if it wasn’t for the 696 letters that Sylvia wrote to her family over thirteen years.
I am not sure what I expected to find when I began this book, but I was taken aback by some of Sylvia’s early writings. When Sylvia was fourteen she wrote a poem, titled “I Thought That I Could Not Be Hurt.” Below are the first three stanzas.
I thought that I could not be hurt;
I thought that I must surely be
impervious to suffering—
immune to mental pain
My world was warm with April sun
my thoughts were spangled green and gold
my soul filled up with joy, yet felt
the sharp, sweet pain that only joy
My spirit soared above the gulls
that, swooping breathlessly so high
o’erhead, now seem to brush their whir-
ring wings against the blue roof of
the sky. (Letters Home, 33)
Despite the poem’s foreboding title, its heartbreaking implications, and its sad conclusion about the frailty of the human heart, I was moved by how she wrote about how much joy she had experienced and how much joy she could experience. When I was fourteen I could not have written articulately about happiness and the subsequent disappointment that it could bring. I do not think I fully comprehended what happiness was, however fleeting the experience might have been. I can’t even look back at my childhood or adolescent years and pick out moments when I thought, “Yes that was it. At that moment I was happy.”
One of the more poignant pieces included in Letters Home is “Diary Supplement,” written when Plath was just seventeen. It was this small diary entry that made me yearn to be seventeen again.
An excerpt from “Diary Supplement” (November 13, 1949):
As of today I have decided to keep a diary again–just a place where I can write my thoughts and opinions when I have a moment. Somehow I have to keep and hold the rapture of being seventeen. Every day is so precious I feel infinitely sad at the thought of all this time melting farther and farther away from me as I grow older. Now, now is the perfect time of my life.
In reflecting back upon these last sixteen years, I can see tragedies and happiness, all relative–all unimportant now–fit only to smile upon a bit mistily.
I still do not know myself. Perhaps I never will. But I feel free – unbound by responsibility, I still can come up to my own private room, with my drawings hanging on the walls...and pictures pinned up over my bureau. It is a room suited to me – tailored, uncluttered and peaceful...I love the quiet lines of the furniture, the two bookcases filled with poetry books and fairy tales saved from childhood.
At the present moment I am very happy, sitting at my desk, looking out at the bare trees around the house across the street... Always want to be an observer. I want to be affected by life deeply, but never so blinded that I cannot see my share of existence in a wry, humorous light and mock myself as I mock others. (39-40)
I am amazed that at seventeen Sylvia new what it meant to have Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own.” And how self-aware she was of the beauty of youth. Sylvia’s diary entry also made me aware of something “romantic” about me when I was seventeen: I wrote a lot. I wrote poems, short stories, and plays. I outlined book ideas and dreamed of creating a zine with my childhood friend. I created lots of characters with pretentious name. I wasn’t afraid to write. I didn’t worry that someone would judge me based on my writing. Like Sylvia, I wrote because I had to.
I feel fortunate to realize that right now “is the perfect time of my life.” I am happy with who I am now, who I love, what I feel, and how I think. I am thirty, the age of Sylvia when she committed suicide.